PAINTING BY NUMBERS
Forget the pens and paintbrushes - how about painting with pixels? Penny Page has taken a peek at four new graphics packages and Peter Shaw completes the picture.
First off, the sixty-four thousand pixel question - why do you want to draw pretty pictures on the screen? Of course, there's always the art for art's sake answer. After all, why do artists draw pictures anyway? The average artist can fork out quite large portions of his pocket-money on pens and paintbrushes, but at least you won't have to keep replacing your software. But if you're not that arty-farty how does the idea of making money grab you? Thought so. Well , I know of people who have sold their computer masterpieces to software houses who've used them as tide screens for games. You don't have to be a poor artist! But the best reason of all is that drawing with your Speccy can be real fun. And if you don't rate yourself as much of an artist, you'll still be able to knock up some professional looking graphics with your Speccy's help. Beats staring at a blank sheet of paper any day!
Every art form has its limitations and computer art's no exception. Your Speccy hasn't got an infinite number of pixels to draw with and your colour palette's pretty small. You can always mix a hue on screen with the aid of a grid pattern and clever use of colours but this only highlights the problem of the low-resolution attribute grid. All sounds a bit grim, doesn't it? But don't despair, 'cos a quick butchers at Pete's piccies will show you what's possible.
All of the packages Peter picked to produce his piccies (OK, you can untwist your tongues now! Ed.) are new to the market, though Paintplus has arisen from the ashes of P'n'P's previous package, Paintbox. All the software we looked at offers improvements on previous graphics programs but none of them has got it completely right yet. They're either too complicated or they miss out on one important feature or another. Take for an example, the idea of adding colour. A painter would usually draw a rough sketch on the canvas first and then slap on the colour afterwards. But with three of these packages you've got to choose your colours and put them on without any previous drawing. Only The Artist has got it right.
DRAWING THE LINE
One of the major problems about creating pictures on the Speccy is the distance between the screen where the pic appears and the keyboard that creates it. This is pretty unusual - just think, if you're painting, the brushes are at least in direct contact with the canvas and a sculptor chisels and chips at his chunk of rock. Of course, a light pen seems the obvious way round but none of these packages has that facility. And have you ever tried to draw with one of them on the Spectrum - they wouldn't have persuaded Picasso to pack in his painting!
All the programs include a User-Defined Graphics editor and positioner - very useful if you want to store away complex pictures in twenty-one graphics symbols but I find this option a bit of a waste of space. Still, that's only me and if I was asked to pin down the best program on its UDG handling alone, I'd plump for The Artist.
Well, now for the moment you've all been waiting for - which one of the four packages would I go for on overall picture creating ability. As you probably expected I'm going to hedge my bets. My choice lies somewhere between The Artist, PaintPlus and Lightmagic in that order. Leonardo just didn't come into the running. But before you make up your mind, have a look at what Peter made of the packages and see which one would most suit your artistic temperament.
PaintPlus isn't the most advanced of the four packages but Print'n'Plotter have come up with a good balance between what to include and what to leave out. The package requires a modicum of talent before the best can be 'drawn' out of it. It still comes up against competition from Melbourne Draw but the hatch fill feature means it gets my vote.
Picture Completion Time 2 hours. Rating 4/5
BEST OF DRAWERS
Anyone who can come up wHh an animated graphic on a Speccy which doesn't look lost on the huge screen of the Hippodrome, has got to be worth listening to about graphics packages. That's why we asked Chi-Yeung Choy, one of the winners of the Great Animated Logo Compo to come to the YS Art Gallery and offer a second opinion.LEONARDOThere's a multitude of commands here - shame they're so totally confusing. It's a must to have the manual at hand at all times. I found the cursor annoying to use as it didn't have any variable speeds. For the hype surrounding the launch of this package I don't rate it at all.LIGHTMAGICThe best bit of this is the large pool of commands open to you. True, the FILL command's a bit of a let down but the BRUSH mode makes up for that. Overall, it's easy to produce instant pictures but the attribute handling can be difficult lo use - still, better than PaintPlus.PAINTPLUSThis is certainly an improvement on Paintbox, but it's still not quite the perfect solution to artistic endeavour on the Spectrum. The attribute handling is decidedly ropey. The best bit is the enlarge feature. It's a shame that drawing is limited to lines, rectangles and circles.THE ARTISTWho needs a Macintosh when you've got a Speccy and this program. There are on screen commands, a very fast and extremely flexible FILL command and even a cut-and-paste facility. All it needs is a mouse and you've just saved yourself two grand!
Cut + Paste: NOEnlarge: VERY GOODRotate/Mirror: NOVariable Brush Store: NOCursor Speeds: 2UDG + Text: VERY GOODScale Picture Size: NOHatching Ability: VERY GOODFill: POORManual: GOODAttribute Handling: GOODErase: VERY GOODDifferent Character Sets: NOSpecial Feature: 'Screen planner', Organiser program.
The first tricky bit was sketching in the basic lines. No variable brush size feature here, so these lines had to be drawn in outline, and then filled in.
PaintPlus is very helpful when it comes to taking out the inevitable cock-ups - well, they're inevitable when I'm around. Apart from the basic 'erase last operation' facility, PaintPlus also allows you to save a copy of the screen to high memory before setting out on any major changes.Paintplus's FILL command is fast - it's just a shame it's not more reliable. As it admits in the manual, unless you're trying to fill a square or circle, then it's unlikely to get everything in first go.
I did the girl's hair with the arc feature. This manual's the only one to show an example of each possible arc - a small point maybe, but you'd be surprised how handy that info is.
Take a look at the detail in her eyes - good, innit? Well, it was done with PaintPlus's enlarge facility and pretty simple it was too. First select the area of the screen you wish to enlarge by moving a box onto it. Then, press the '2' key and that area will be blown up to fill the full screen.Hidden deep within PaintPlus (behind this picture if you like) is a help page that provides a summarised version of the manual's commands. It's a great feature and saves a lot of time flipping through the manual.
It you know the original painting I've copied here, you'll notice that I've back-combed her hair a touch. Still, I'm only an amateur after all!
OK, it's a pain when PaintPlus's ordinary FILL command fails from time to time, but this is more than made up for by its ability to perform a hatched fill. It has eight variants in all, and they're all very effective. Other programmers take note!As long as you get the ink colour right first time, the paper colour can be changed very easily using the paper wash facility. It's a pity this isn't included in the other three packages.